Cal Fire firefighters monitor a back fire as they battle the Medocino Complex fire on August 7, 2018 near Lodoga, California. 

  Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Cal Fire firefighters monitor a back fire as they battle the Medocino Complex fire on August 7, 2018 near Lodoga, California.  (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

California's Largest, Deadliest and Most Destructive Fires

California's Largest, Deadliest and Most Destructive Fires

The twin fires at the Mendocino Complex are now on record as being the largest blazes in California history, having burned through 300,086 acres and counting.

The state's top five largest blazes occurred within the last five years, according to Cal Fire records stretching back to 1932, underscoring the role of climate change in fueling increased wildfire activity.

“What we’re seeing in California right now is more destructive, larger fires burning at rates that we have historically never seen,” Jonathan Cox, a Cal Fire spokesman, told CNN recently.

Scientists attribute this surge of fire activity to climate change, which is driving up temperatures and priming extremely dry brush for ignition.

Human-driven warming is drying out forests to the point that peak fire seasons in the region have increased every year by about nine days since 2000, according to a 2017 study.

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That's because temperatures throughout the western U.S. are increasing at a much faster rate than for the planet as a whole.

Since 1970, average annual temperatures for the region have increased by 1.9° F, about twice the pace of the global average warming, according to data from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Meanwhile urbanization is contributing to the destructiveness of wildfires as more people move into harm's way.

Below, are three top 10 lists citing California's largest, most destructive, and deadliest wildfires, based on Cal Fire records going back to 1932.

Top 10 Largest Wildfires

  1. Mendocino Complex, July, 2018. Impacting Mendocino, Lake and Colusa Counties. 300,086 acres burned, 221 structures destroyed as of Wednesday morning. Fire is ongoing.
  2. Thomas Fire, December, 2017. Impacting Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. 281,893 acres burned, 1,063 structures destroyed, 1 death. Cause is under investigation.
  3. Cedar Fire, October 2003. Impacting San Diego County. 273,246 acres burned, 2,820 structures destroyed, 15 deaths. Sparked by a signal fire from lost hunter.
  4. Rush Fire, August 2012. Impacting Lassen County. 271,911 acres burned, 5 deaths. Sparked by lightning.
  5. Rim Fire, August 2013. Impacting Tuolumne County. 257,314 acres burned, 112 structures destroyed. Sparked by camp fire.
  6. Zaca Fire, July 2007. Impacting Santa Barbara County. 240,207 acres burned, 1 structure destroyed, 7 deaths. The fire was caused by sparks from a grinding machine on private property.
  7. Matilija Fire, September 1932. Impacting Ventura County.  220,000 acres burned, 8 deaths. Unknown cause.
  8. Witch Fire, October 2007. Impacting San Diego County. 197,990 acres burned, 1,650 structures destroyed, 2 deaths. Sparked by power lines.
  9. Klamath Theater Complex, June 2008. Impacting Siskiyou County. 192,038 acres destroyed, 2 deaths. Sparked by lightning.
  10. Marble Cone, July 1977. Impacting Monterey County. 177,866 acres destroyed. Sparked by lightning.

Top 10 Most Destructive Wildfires

A firefighting airplane drops fire retardant at the Holy Fire near Lake Elsinore, in Orange County, California, on August 7, 2018. (DAVID MCNEW/AFP/Getty Images)
  1. Tubbs Fire, October 2017. Impacting Sonoma County. 36,807 acres burned, 5,636 structures destroyed, 22 deaths.
  2. Tunnel-Oakland Hills Fire, October 1991. Impacting Alameda County. 1,600 acres burned, 2,900 structures destroyed, 25 deaths.
  3. Cedar Fire, October 2003. Impacting San Diego. 273,246 acres burned, 2,820 structures destroyed,  15 deaths.
  4. Valley Fire, September 2015. Impacting Lake, Napa & Sonoma Counties. 76,067 acres burned, 1,955, structures destroyed, 4 deaths.
  5. Witch Fire, October 2007. Impacting San Diego.  197,990 acres burned,  1,650 structures destroyed, 2 deaths.
  6. Carr Fire, July 2018. Impacting Shasta and Trinity Counties. 173,522 acres burned, 1,599 structures destroyed,  6 deaths.
  7. Nuns Fire, October 2017. Impacting Sonoma County. 54,382 acres burned, 1,355 structures destroyed, 3 deaths.
  8. Thomas Fire, December 2017. Impacting Ventura & Santa Barbara Counties. 281,893 acres burned, 1,063 structures destroyed, 2 deaths.
  9. Old Fire, October 2003. Impacting San Bernardino. 91,281 acres burned, 1,003 structures destroyed, 6 deaths.
  10. Jones Fire, October 1999. Impacting Shasta County. 26,200 acres burned, 954 structures destroyed, 1 death.

Top 10 Deadliest Wildfires

Jay Michael (R) and Gretchen Fritsch rest in their car during the Ranch Fire in the parking lot of the Moose Lodge in Clearlake Oaks, California on August 7, 2018. (JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
  1. Griffith Park, October 1933. Impacting Los Angeles.  29 deaths.
  2. Tunnel-Oakland Hills Fire, October 1991. Impacting Alameda County.  25 deaths.
  3. Tubbs Fire, October 2017. Impacting Sonoma County. 22 deaths.
  4. Cedar Fire, October 2003. Impacting San Diego. 15 deaths.
  5. Rattlesnake Fire, July 1953. Impacting Glenn County. 15 deaths.
  6. Loop Fire, November 1966. Impacting Los Angeles. 12 deaths.
  7. Hauser Creek, October 1943. Impacting San Diego. 11 deaths.
  8. Inaja Fire, November 1956. Impacting San Diego. 11 deaths.
  9. Iron Alps Complex, August 2008. Impacting Trinity County, 10 deaths.
  10. Redwood Valley Fire, October 2017. Impacting Mendocino County. 9 deaths. 

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